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Remembering Robert Mugabe; A personal encounter

22 Sep 2019 at 08:55hrs | Views

Robert Mugabe came and left.
Him and I met at Changara's house in Warren Park, Harare, downhill and only a stone's throw away from the National Heroes Acre.
He had come to pay belated condolences to the man he had known for years in Mozambique, his bodyguard during the liberation war against white supremacists. The man who had become synonymous with Presidential security.

Changara had passed on in Harare while Mugabe was away out of the country on a tour of duty. A heavily-built, dark skinned man with a forbbiding bearing of a hardened soldier who hardly smiled. Most of Mugabe' s public pictures had Changara bedecked with military badges lurking behind like a shadow.

So, here we were, the late famous ZBC Diplomatic Correspondent Judith Makwanya, former The Herald Assistant News Editor and my mentor Itai Musengeyi and I packed behind a door in Changara' s lounge decorated with a red carpet. The walls and ceiling had rich Oriental souvenirs; wallpapers and hangings, amble testimony the father of the house often visited far-flung shores of the world.
I was a cub reporter with New Ziana ( Zimababwe-Inter-Africa- News -Agency) among these two greats in the industry.
When Mugabe sashayed into the room almost like a ghost in a black suit and softly padded black leather shoes, everybody stood up, out of respect. He proceeded to sit on a couch in the far corner crossing his legs in Presidential fashion while Changara's uncle sat on the other adjacent.

Somehow I noticed his receding jet-black hair and shiny, clean-shaven cheeks. Mugabe was a snappy dresser! In newsrooms , it was rumoured he did not entertain unjacketed and badly dressed newsmen.

Amai Changara dressed in black sat on their feet, sullen, dressed in black. Behind thick lenses I could make out Mugabe's roving eyes oozing intelligence and curiosity as he quickly surveyed the room. He gave a cursory wave to the three of us the media, frozen in a corner.
It was tense for me, I could feel a cough coming but I suprressed it with all the might I could muster. A Mugabe presence was otherworldly. A first presidential assignment for me. I was frozen in time. There was an air about it I am still to experience with anyone.

Journalists those days the world over favoured multi-pocketed sleeveless jackets and I had a khaki one. In fact I still have a couple I wear in remembrance of newsrooms and my rookie years.

When Bob spoke, it was hushed. He had a way with words that even Amai Changara dabbed tears at her cheeks with tissue paper.
' Baba was one of us,' he whispered. He regretted that Changara could not spent much time with his beloved family because of national duty.
Mugabe said when duty called, Changara was always ready and on standby. He had risen through the ranks to become Chief Presidential Driver. In my inexperienced mind, I remember feeling a tinge of genuine grief in Mugabe's voice as he dug deep into his memory. This was a man he had loved and trusted with his life. A confidante who had passed on in his absence. Probably, he had come for the first time to see his family and boardings in Changara's absence.

I scribbled away notes in journalistic shorthand as Mugabe solemnly mumbled and narrated his relationship with Changara to the family. A heavily muscled, charcoal-black soldier, armed and with restless eyes stood by the half- open doorway, I could feel his breath at my nape. He would even peer at my notes while a countless number of other armed and camouflaged men were in positions on durawalls. Some climbed green Mango trees in neighbours yards dotted around Changara' s compound.
All the while in the room, Changara' son and married daughter sat quietly in the corner, too moved and probably unbelieving of Mugabe' s presence.

' Are you working now, I know you finished high school? Mugabe asked the young son in a black suit.
'No, ndirikukiya kiya', he said and the few of us in the room burst into reppresed giggles. He meant he was hustling a life without formal employment.

" What is that? Mugabe asked obviously taken aback. ' Come to our offices, your mother here knows how to go about it', he said gesticulating at Amai Changara on the floor. ' We have scholarships for war veterans children, we help them' , he assured the young man.

With formalities in the house finished Mugabe addressed a small gathering of neighbours in Changara' s garage with a mini megaphone. He extolled Changara' s war record, his service to the nation emphasising his loyalty to the party and government from the war times.

A Changara family representative spoke afterwards thanking him before he dissappered into a crowd of security men in shiny suits and dark glases who whisked him away in the famous bullet proof, double engined, sleek, heavy-black Mercedes Benz, Zim One.

I left too for the newsroom in Selous Avenue with my driver of the day, Mr Makuvaza. The story was on my fingertips and subsequently I filed copy for the agency. My job had been done.

But for Mugabe, he was a man with a Herculean job. Zimbabwe's economy was already showing full-blown symptoms of mismanagement. On the political front, he was a pariah, a Biblical leper. Western sanctions mainly ZIDERA from America bit hard. Many of the top government officials including him and Grace, the First lady could not travel or do business with the West. Zimbabwe was on the skids. White capital had fled thanks to a chaotic land redistribution excercise. Foreign investment came in drips and drabs. Media freedoms were heavily curtailed Zimbabwe's human rights record became a global talking point, a grotesque chapter with pararelles drawn to Adolf Hitler's Germany. In the latter years Mugabe flew more trips with a huge entourage to Malaysia and Singapore for medical checkups. Time and nature were slowly catching up with him. I would only read about him in newspapers. I would Google him for specific details. I would often hear news bites of his booming voice in bulletins. I would even pass through State House and Zimbabwe House in broad daylight and would never see him. He had since relocated to the plush, Chinese-designed and equally famous abode, The Blue Roof along Borrowdale Road in upmarket Harare. Even his Munhumutapa offices adjacent to Parliament in the heart of the city were infrequently occupied. Mugabe became scarce in the country. He became airborne much of the time. His love for air travel endured at some point commandeering an Air Zimbabwe jetplane for weeks in the Far East.

I left for South Africa. Life under him had become intolerable. Like millions of fellow Zimbabweans, I was determined to make a fresh start in life.

In the later years Zimbabwe gripped world headlines when his most trusted Lieutenant Emmerson Mnangagwa overthrew him, forcing him to resign with the help of Constantino Chiwenga, an ex- military general believed to be the most influential kingmaker in modern day Zimbabwean politics.

On the 6th of September, 2019, I woke up to the sad news Mugabe had passed on. He had dominated Zimbabwean politics for 37 years. It has been over a decade when we crossed paths. He is now a memory, a beautiful or bad one is a personal choice. The onus is on the living to live their lives without him. He came and left. Asante Sana!

Josiah Mucharowana is a trained journalist living in Pretoria, South Africa. He can contacted on mobile: + 27 84 587 4121, email;
Source - Josiah Mucharowana
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